10: The Art of Dramatic Writing

The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human MotivesThe Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives by Lajos Egri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This was recommended by Bellman. Well, actually she recommended the companion book (The Art of Creative Writing), but I couldn’t find it in the library—it was lost or stolen or something—and this book seemed to be the more famous, easier to find, one.

I actually got this from the UBC library first—an original edition—but I had it out for so long I decided to buy a copy. So this one’s a paperback from Chapters. Which is fine, yet lacking the coolness factor that the one from the 1940s did.


It’s kind of wonderful that UBC still has 70-year-old books out on the shelves. I don’t mean by publication date–sure there are lots of reprints floating around–I mean objects that have actually physically been there for 70 years. That same book you just pulled off the shelf was taken out by drama students in the 1940s! When you think about it, library books like that are kind of amazing. It’s not like a work of art that’s mostly looked at but rarely touched. Or a book people have decided is worth preserving and placed under glass. That 70-year-old book has been taken out, stuffed in bags and backpacks, probably treated with less than the greatest care, maybe even taken on faraway journeys! and yet somehow every time it made it back to the shelf and it’s still there, still intact, mixed in with all the young whippersnapper books.  There’s an aura about books like that. You wish they could talk, tell you where they’ve been, who they’ve been with. And at the same time you can’t help wondering how much longer that experience will exist—all the books have been relegated to movable shelves in the basement.


Oh, wait. One more thing about the original version. It had two additional appendixes that aren’t included in the reprint: “How to Market Your Play” and “Long Runs on Broadway.” It’s obvious why these weren’t included, yet they did add a certain je ne sais quoi to the book.

Moving along! This isn’t the kind of book you just read straight through. It’s more of a chapter here and there kind of book, one that will be great to dip back into now and again, when I need help with a sticky plot problem.

Egri’s key concept is the premise. This is your story’s purpose, theme, goal, thesis, central idea, what have you. It’s a succinct statement, usually one line, that encapsulates the point you’re making. For example, the premise of Romeo and Juliet, according to Egri, is: “great love defies even death.” What Egri argues is that your story should prove your premise.

This book was  amazing because it solved My Biggest Problem. I was so excited, I immediately posted about at TC:

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2011 10:52 am    Post subject: Re: My Biggest Problem

I debated over which thread to put this in (daily writing thread? this month’s AB thread? Art of Creative Writing thread?), but I was pretty sure I’d mentioned My Biggest Problem with Novel Writing somewhere here before, and so I searched for that and aha!

Beaver wrote:
Thought the 2nd: I have a similar problem (I think) with novels wherein I cycle through various ideas for endings, but can never settle on one b/c each choice feels too arbitrary. (am I forcing it? is this the ‘right’ ending?)

Well, thanks to Bellman, I’ve been reading The Art of Dramatic Writing and in one sentence (one! sentence!) on page 106 Lajos Egri has solved My Biggest Problem:

“The premise is a tyrant who permits you to go only one way — the way of absolute proof.”

Problem. Slayed. cough cough thud

So, now that My Biggest Problem has been solved, I need to work on my premises! Thanks, Bellman Smile

If the book offered nothing else, that would be enough. But there’s more! If you’re the kind of writer who has difficulty with plotting, this is the book for you.